TORONTO - What does Naendra Modi, Prime Minister of India know about the Covid-19 virus that he is not sharing with leaders of other nations?
On Tuesday, without the customary prevarications (suggestions for behaviour, recommendations for social conduct, warnings, targeted regulations, threats of legislated lockdowns) Modi shut down the entire country. His order includes all 36 component states.
A CNN report claims that “only essential services will be operational. These include water, electricity, health services, fire services, groceries and municipal services.” Everything else - “All shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, markets and places of worship will be closed, and interstate buses and metros will be suspended. Construction activity will also be on a halt during this period”.
Modi’s government closed cancelled all air travel, regardless of destination. “Remain where you are for 21 days”, and, stay indoors, he says. His dictate and plea amount to a threat: if you don’t, we die.
India is home to 1.3 billion people. Its nominal GDP, estimated in USD to be 3 Trillion, is the 5th biggest economy in the world (Italy’s 8th, Canada’s 10th). It boasts the world’s most populous democracy and its largest middle class (assuming the European countries are considered as individual units in the comparative).
Now it is in total lockdown, for three weeks. The Johns Hopkins University tracker of Coronavirus, as at Tuesday night, registered 536 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in India, compared to 9,877 in Switzerland (pop.8,591,000), 53,660 in the USA (pop. 329,064,000).
One cannot identify, let alone positively confirm, cases unless one conducts reliable tests, proper analysis, and reports the findings. Allegations of non-adherence to common protocols among countries already abound. If there is any basis in fact, then the accusations of irresponsibility – if not criminality – will surely follow.
Until the last several days, Italy seems to have stood apart as the country whose Health reporting protocol demands coherence, consistency and transparency. Corriere published a schedule of pathologies and their connections to Covid-19 in all deaths, daily. The Americans and others are beginning to take note and to draw “lessons learned”.
Canada … not so much. Our experts and political leaders are still mouthing the phrase “we’re learning from our experience with SARS” – a generation ago. Currency of information is the life-blood of informed decisions. Ironically, Covid-19 appears to have almost completed decided not to trouble the good people of North Korea, Russia, Iraq, Libya (a veritable paradise for slavers, people smugglers and war lords). These are not societies where good hygiene and common access to health care distinguish their countries.
India has its own challenges. Has it been testing? What are its protocols? Has it been reporting the results? To which Agency? The Johns Hopkins tracker relies on inputs from the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Health bodies around the globe.
India is a major source of raw material for the pharmaceutical industry. Nevertheless, there is no quick fix on the horizon. Not in pharmaceuticals, not in mechanical devices like proper masks or ventilator.
Therefore, in the absence of solid data for analysis, Modi appears to have accepted the advice that it is better to avoid contagion, suffer the momentary economic and social hit than to spend a generation trying to rebuild his society.
We are still trying to fi nd the happy balance between civil liberties and living a healthy lifestyle.
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